By Terry Dean
Members of Oak Park and River Forest High School Debate Club was familiar with the situation — making their case in the most persuasive manner possible.
It was May, after school, during a meeting with the school's director of student activities, Cindy Milojevic, and they were trying to keep their club from being discontinued. OPRF's debate club has faced this before. Like any other club at OPRF, it only exists if enough students are interested in joining. In the last 10 years, the club had to be resurrected twice by students.
Administration this time was under the assumption that interest was low, given that the club's two seniors, who participated in every local and state competition, were graduating. The club also lost its faculty sponsor, who decided not to coach the team anymore.
"I don't think Ms. Milojevic was aware of how many students were actually involved in the debate team," said member and club leader Louis Kissinger.
Along with the two seniors who competed, the club's other senior members also graduated, giving the impression that they only had a handful of students, said Kissinger, who is a junior.
The rest of the team heard that the school was shutting down the club. They hastily arranged a meeting with the administration to clear things up.
"We all got notices to meet with Ms. Milojevic after school. We all went down there and there was a room full of kids all [saying], please don't shut down our club, we love this," Kissinger said. "Then she realized she probably shouldn't shut down the club."
The misunderstanding was cleared up and the club was saved. Entering this school year, debaters still don't have a faculty sponsor, but the group will receive a $3,000 stipend from the school. About a dozen students are involved in the club this year. Team members' parents are helping too, coordinating roughly four competitions during the year.
The club is also looking to recruit more students and parents this year.
"For parents, the debates are associated with better academic performance and higher test scores; it's great to put on an application for college. That's what we're pitching to parents," said Ellen Pimentel, whose son, Marty, a sophomore, is a club member.
The members are trying to recruit a teacher to sponsor and coach the club. They'll also be doing fundraisers, Kissinger said.
Pimentel credits the students for keeping the club alive, saying the kids were "quite successful in that debate." Other club members said they like the club because it helps them in their other classes. Kissinger likes learning about the various topics that members have to argue for or against.
Emma Dempsey, a junior, enjoys hearing other points of view because, the way competitions are organized, you might find yourself having to make an argument for the opposing position.
"It sort of gives you a new way of thinking about things," she said. "It really helps you see other arguments because you [might] think their [position] is ridiculous but there's like a whole team that has this long document and a bunch of reasons why it's good."
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